The South Carolina House of Representatives has voted to remove the divisive confederate flag from the state capitol's grounds.
The 94-20 vote was made after more than 13 hours of arguments "that sometimes turned emotional, even tearful", according to USA Today.
The flag, flown by southern states fighting to preserve slavery in the American Civil War, is widely viewed as symbol of racial oppression. But supporters argue it is a symbol of heritage, not hate.
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It has been linked to the suspected Charleston shooter and white supremacist, Dylann Roof, who allegedly murdered nine people inside an African American church in South Carolina last month.
The state's republican governor Nikki Haley, who has pushed for the flag to be taken down, said it was "a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of" and that the decision would "truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."
The flag is expected to be taken down in the coming days "without fanfare" and will be sent to a nearby Confederate heritage museum.
"South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives," said Democrat state representative Joe Neal. "I never thought in my lifetime I would see this."
Confederate battle flag: an America symbol of heritage or hate?
There are growing calls for the Confederate flag to be removed from the South Carolina State House after the murder of nine African-Americans in a racially motivated attack on a church in Charleston.
The battle flag, flown by the southern slave states during the American Civil War, is widely viewed as symbol of racial oppression and "remains a popular emblem among present-day white supremacists," says The Guardian.
After the attack on the historic black church, pictures emerged of the main suspect Dylann Roof waving the flag while posing with a gun.
Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, has called for the "deeply offensive symbol" to be removed. Retail giant Walmart announced that it will be removing all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores.
The flag is also fast becoming a becoming a major political issue for presidential hopefuls. Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate for 2016, has long campaigned for the flag to be taken down.
But Republican candidates are treading delicately, says the New York Times. "They do not want to risk offending the conservative white voters who venerate the most recognizable emblem of the Confederacy."
Defenders in South Carolina insist the flag signifies "heritage not hate," according to Al Jazeera. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said the flag "works here" and rejected the notion that it had a negative impact on Roof. "It's him," he said. "Not the flag."
A poll conducted last year revealed that 73 per cent of white people in South Carolina want the flag to remain where it is, while 61 per cent of black residents want it taken down, CNN reports.
"It's a symbol of family and my ancestors who defended the state from invasion. It was about standing up to a central government," said Chris Sullivan, who is a member of the Sons of the Confederacy.
But civil rights activists disagree. "The flag has to come down," said Cornell William Brooks, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, after the church murders.
"This was not merely a mass shooting. This was a racial hate crime, and must be confronted as such," he said. "That means, certainly symbolically, we cannot have the Confederate flag waving in the state capitol."
The Confederacy was founded on the principle that slavery is the "natural and normal condition" of black people and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters, writes Ben Hallman in the Huffington Post. "Where in that story arc is anything worth celebrating?"
Hallman argues that pulling down the flag won't help the victims of the Charleston shooting, "nor will it erase the legacy of racism and hate that sadly persists to this day. But at least there will be fewer visible reminders of it."
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